The gutsy batsman Asif Iqbal
The gutsy batsman Asif Iqbal

With Pakistan 65-8 in their second innings against England and the Test match likely to finish before lunch, there was an announcement on the public address system at The Oval about talks under way between the two cricket boards and teams to play a 40-over game after lunch on the fourth day to entertain the crowd. 

One man stood incensed by the insult. 

On the last day of the third and final Test of Pakistan’s tour of England, on August 28, 1967, with Pakistan already one down in the series, England had dominated the game from the start. Having bowled out Pakistan for 216, they had scored 440 in their first innings, building a lead of 224. The English seamers wiped out Pakistan’s top and middle order to limit the visitors to 53-7 when Asif Iqbal walked in to bat at number nine. 

At the time Asif Iqbal was more of a specialist bowler who could bat. Asif Iqbal the great batsman and occasional bowler came later. 

With 65 on the board, Pakistan was still trailing England by 159 runs with lunch still at quite a distance. Javed Burki was bowled out by Derek Underwood for 7 as the plan for a 40-over contest after lunch began to take concrete shape. Pakistan were expected to lose their last two wickets pretty quickly, if the trend was to be considered. If the likes of Hanif Mohammad, Saeed Ahmed, Javed Burki and Mushtaq Mohammad were unable to stand up to the England bowlers, what chance did Asif Iqbal and the remaining two players, Intikhab Alam and Salim Altaf have?

Action replay in words of an incredible innings played by two of Pakistan’s cricketing legends 55 years ago to the day

But Asif was irritated by the announcement of another 40-over after lunch entertainer. They were not a bad side, in fact a team of fine stroke makers who had drawn the first Test against the same bowlers. Asif had a word with Intikhab Alam, one of the best leg spinners of the time, who, with three half centuries in 19 Tests and a top score of 61, was also a reasonable bat. In the Pakistan team, he was senior to Asif by some five years. Asif also had three fifties in 10 Tests with a highest score of 76 that had come in the same series. They were not complete rookies with Intikhab’s Test batting average 20 and Asif’s just under 25. 

Quietly enraged at the thought of another game to ‘entertain’ the crowd, Asif also felt that such a thought provided him with a personal challenge. He decided, therefore, to go down fighting. 

The reliable backup Intikhab Alam
The reliable backup Intikhab Alam

His counterattack began almost immediately. He pulled, cut and drove the two England spinners at will and with strokes that shrieked past the fielders before they could even move. One such shot off the off-spinner Fred Titmus was hit into the pavilion and another pulled over mid-wicket for another six. 

His dominance was not just over the England bowlers but also over the partnership. Intikhab contributed less than 10 runs to a partnership of 50 that came in 41 minutes. At lunch the scoreboard showed 121-8. As a final flourish before England won comfortably by an innings, there was another of the same announcement over the PA system. 

But soon the partnership surpassed the previous ninth wicket record for Pakistan against England, of 58 between Wazir Mohammad and Zulfiqar Ahmed, also at The Oval in 1954. And it grew ominously for England looking for a massive early victory.

Asif reached his fifty in 45 minutes, having hit seven fours and two sixes. And when the partnership between the two crossed 71, it had broken the ninth wicket record for any Test played by Pakistan. 

In a bid to tempt the ‘tail-enders’ into a miscued heave, Brian Close, the England captain, brought on Ken Barrington, the masterful England batsman who also bowled occasional leg spin. Asif smashed him through the covers and then he repeated the stroke with even more class to bring up the 100-run stand in 95 minutes. It also took Asif to 90. 

England took the second new ball at 190-8 but it failed to conciliate Asif, who reached his 100 with an off drive for four.

Wisden reports: “Hitting boldly, Asif excelled with the drive and hook. He raced to 50 out of 56 [balls] and Higgs, Arnold and Underwood, so supreme at one stage, all suffered during his drastic punishment. Intikhab’s share when the stand reached three figures was 28. A sparkling off-drive from Higgs gave Asif his fourteenth four and took him to his first Test century in two hours, nineteen minutes.”

And when he reached his century over a hundred fans, mostly from the Pakistani diaspora, ran on to the ground, while the ball was still short of the boundary. They hoisted him on their shoulders. Play was held up for five minutes, while the ground could be cleared and a shaken and stirred Asif emerged from the pandemonium. He had to have a glass of water to recover.

He had indeed risen from the depths like phoenix from the ashes and blazed fire at the England bowlers. It was his maiden century and as a news report claimed: “Test cricket can rarely have seen a maiden century to equal Asif’s today.”

But he wasn’t stopping there. And neither was Intikhab. Asif swept Underwood for another four to fine leg. Still it wasn’t just all hitting. There were periods in between the boundaries when the two defended stoically though the line between a good and bad ball. 

At one time, during the Pakistan innings, Ken Higgs, one of England’s opening bowlers who had figures of 5 for 16 in 10.5 overs, was hit for fours by Asif and Intikhab, with contempt. At one time he was struck for five boundaries in two overs by Asif. 

Eventually a square drive to the boundary from Intikhab took the score to 226 and ensured that England would bat again — unimaginable at 65-8 when he had walked in to join Asif. 

A little later the stand reached 164 thus creating a new world record partnership for the ninth wicket in Test cricket. 

Intikhab struck another four to reach his 50. Such had been the dazzle around Asif that the role of Intikhab was never fully realised. But if it hadn’t been for him Asif may not have had the opportunity to play the innings of his life.

More runs flowed and the stand reached 190 when the England captain decided to bring himself on for the first time in the innings. It was to prove England’s master stroke as Close drew out Asif one more time only to be stumped by Allan Knott.

The young 24-year-old Asif Iqbal, the man who had transformed an afternoon like few others, walked back to a standing ovation. He was eventually out for 146 in 200 minutes of batting, striking 21 fours and two sixes — two thirds of his runs came through boundaries. His 146 was the highest score by any batsman batting at number nine in Test cricket.

Intikhab was eventually bowled by Titmus at the same score of 255. His 51 had taken 174 minutes and included six fours. He was to recall many years later: “I had a sty in the left eye, which could hardly open. The eye gradually improved and we batted on. I played as the junior partner, trying to give strike to Asif as much as I could. His was a magnificent knock.”

The England captain Brian Close said later that the innings by Asif was the best knock he ever saw and described his performance as: “The showpiece of the season.” 

Colin Cowdrey is said to have approached Asif after the game to tell him that: “You have just played one of the greatest innings I have ever seen,” before offering him a county cricket contract with Kent.

Wisden chose Asif Iqbal in its five cricketers of the year and called his innings of 146 as “an amalgam of pure batting genius and joyous cheek.”

The 190-run stand was till then the third ranked in Test cricket history when contribution of partnership in relation to the final team total was taken. It contributed 74.5 per cent of the team’s total. 

Perhaps it was best summed up by Pakistan’s team manager Mr Khan who described the partnership between Asif and Intikhab as “one of the greatest rearguard actions ever fought in cricket.”

The writer is a cricket writer, analyst and host.
He tweets @SohaibAlvi

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 28th, 2022

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